The solar industry in the U.S. has been gathering steam in the last few years and the top three states leading the nation in per capita installed solar capacity are California, Arizona and ….. wait for it ………. New Jersey (no,really? yes, really!). New Jersey joins the two sunshiny states in reaching total solar capacity of 1GW, comprising an exclusive, but rapidly growing club of solar-happy states.
Long known for its fetid hub of oil refineries the Garden State can now claim a prouder distinction as a mover and shaker in clean, renewable energy policy. A significant part of its solar expansion success includes installation of a whopping one-third of all non-residential solar systems in the country in 2012, including the largest single rooftop installation in North America (pictured above); a sprawling 1.1 million square foot, 27,000-panel system atop a warehouse that generates enough clean energy to counteract the carbon emissions of 1,200 cars!.
New Jersey’s solar accomplishments – the state added 419 MW of new solar capacity in 2012 — are made more remarkable in light of the fact that they’ve occurred in spite of an enthusiastic solar incentive policy that has created a statewide, industry-hobbling glut of solar renewable energy credits, or SREC’s.
To keep up the momentum and correct the SREC problem going forward, the New Jersey legislature tweaked its Solar Advancement Act to catch consumer demand up with the high supply created by the abundance of SREC incentives. The new law also redefines the electricity distribution system to allow more homes and businesses to qualify for net metering, a program through which excess electricity from small systems is fed into the main power grid. Additionally, the state Board of Public Utilities is expanding programs for installing solar systems on landfills and other industrial sites.
Though a significantly scaled back version of its original 136 MW plan, one of the two programs, known as the Solar 4 All Extension, will implement construction of 42 MW worth of solar generation on underutilized industrial lands, known as brownfields; an ideal use for such areas.
Industry is responding to the devalued SREC’s and recent repeal of an overly successful rebate system put in place to spark solar development by shifting away from residential and business installations toward larger-scale projects that will add directly to the power grid. The new trend is expected to more than triple the percentage of these projects compared to a year ago.
However, many of the proposed large-scale solar projects are planned on farmlands, a move that is opposed by both environmental conservation organizations and the conservative governor’s administration. Another potential pitfall of centralized solar at this time is that it could further drive SREC prices down, requiring the state to step in and issue mandates to utility companies to purchase more solar generated power.
Though New Jersey’s enthusiastic, all-in approach to solar energy has resulted in pendulum swings of supply and demand, its overall success is borne out by chart-topping numbers as the state forges new ground in the transition beyond peak oil.